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Why Critics Shouldn't Be So Quick to Shame Katy Perry

Critics of Perry's disavowal of the "feminist" label missed a crucial opportunity.

I was taken aback last week when Katy Perry accepted Billboard’s Woman of the Year award with these words: “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” Ouch. When a successful (or any) woman denounces the ideology that paves the way for other women to fulfill their dreams, it stings. Still, it does not necessarily translate into her rejection of gender equality. The daughter of an evangelical Christian minister, Perry has unleashed musings on her own evolution to a worldly, open-minded human who supports Planned Parenthood, marriage equality and liberal ideology at large. People change and grow up, and Perry seems like one woman who could come to understand how her views align with feminism.  

Unfortunately, many women responded to Perry’s dismissal of feminism by saying, “Duh, of course YOU aren’t a feminist,” and picked apart Perry’s failure to live up to a model of what a feminist woman should be.  But Perry is not just a sexual object of a celebrity; like all women, she is complex. In judging Perry’s person as wholly and intentionally anti-feminist, we are missing an opportunity to explain Perry’s inherently feminist values. Shouldn’t all women be able to subscribe to the feminist ideology, even if they do not agree with or understand every bit of it?  Perry’s rejection of feminism could have been a teachable moment and way to reach out to her millions of young, female fans. Instead, it became a hardly-informative, slut-shaming fest.  

Whipped Cream Boobs

Central to critiques of Perry’s antifeminism are her “whipped cream boobs,” the click-in whipped cream-blasting canisters Perry attached to her bra and then fired away like machine guns in her video for “California Gurls.” Her critics act as if cupcake/whipped cream boobs have made young girls think they will never achieve fame without imitating Perry and putting candy on their chests. But it’s likely Perry has a more complex understanding of her expression.

Perry has said she used the whipped cream boobs “because that was my ammo,” adding that, “I had to slay those Gummi Bears that were very evil. I had to show them who was boss in Candyfornia: the Gurls. The California Gurls, of course."

Some might say that there are dozens of other ways Perry could have delivered the same message without “objectifying herself.”  But Perry’s breast-objectification appears to be a reaction to the shame she felt for having boobs at a younger age. “Someone in sixth grade called me ‘Over-the-shoulder boulder holder,’” Perry told Rolling Stone about her experience with breasts, “I didn’t know I could use them. So, what I did was, I started taping them down ... probably until I was about 19.”

Female sexuality, and breasts in particular for some reason, are incredibly policed by the masses.  If your boobs are big, you cannot show them without being called a slut. Apparently, you can’t say, “fuck you” and shoot whip cream out of them either.

Perry is the first female artist (and tied with the legendary Michael Jackson) to count five #1 singles off one album. But rather than acknowledge her successes, many critics seem stuck on her body. Still, despite what other people say, Perry believes her music and inspiration to young girls should speak louder than her whipped cream-coated breasts. 

From Vanity Fair:

Perry is adamant that, regardless of what else is going on in her life, her music should be her main draw to her fans: “I don’t care what people say about my relationship; I don’t care what they say about my boobs. People are buying my songs; I have a sold-out tour. I’m getting incredible feedback from my music.”

“I don’t take anything for granted ... There are 500 other girls right behind me. And I know that, because I was one of them. I remember what it’s like to be someone who’s always trying to get there—sending out tons of e-mails … trying to connect with some person who could connect me with some other person. And I wouldn’t be working at this pace now if I didn’t truly know that fame is fleeting.”

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